People often use the phrase “born entrepreneurs” when referring to people who seem to have something that makes them innately entrepreneurial. Most of this discussion is casual and doesn’t really consider whether some people are, literally, born with a genetic make-up that makes them more likely than other people to start businesses. But recently, with some colleagues in the UK, I examined whether genetics affects the odds that people will start businesses. I found that the answer is “yes.”
We used quantitative genetics techniques to compare the entrepreneurial activity of 870 pairs of identical and 857 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins. Because the genetic composition of identical twins is 100 percent the same, and the genetic composition of fraternal twins is 50 percent the same, researchers use the degree to which the pairs of twins are the same on various dimensions – personality, religious beliefs, temperment, political leanings, and so on – to look at the portion of the differences between people that is influenced by genetics.
In our case, we looked at different measures of entrepreneurial activity. We found that between 37 and 42 percent of the differences between people in their tendency to have started businesses; been self-employed; been owner operators of businesses; and engaged in the start-up process, is accounted for by genetic factors.
This is only one study. It doesn’t say anything about what genes might affect our tendency to start businesses, or how many genes are involved, or the ways that genes affect our tendency to become entrepreneurs. But, at least to me, it’s fascinating to think that some part of the puzzle of why some people become entrepreneurs and others don’t is explained by our genes.
* * * * *
About the Author: Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of seven books, the latest of which is Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By. He is also a member of the Northcoast Angel Fund in the Cleveland area and is always interested in hearing about great start-ups. Take the entrepreneurship quiz.